Monday, March 4, 2013

Methodist Deaconesses

Happy Women's History Month! Today's post celebrates some particularly dedicated women.

The Deaconess Movement rose from within the Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, and other Protestant denominations. It sought to incorporate professional women in ministerial duties. The Chicago Training School was the center of the movement and prepared its deaconesses to serve as missionary nurses, teachers, and social workers. Unlike Catholic sisters, deaconesses took no perpetual vows, but if a woman chose to remain a deaconess and single, she could count on care in times of illness and in old age. These dedicated pioneers earned no salaries, but rather worked in exchange for their living expenses and small stipends supplied by their institutional boards.

A procession of deaconesses and candidates, May 7, 1914, probably in New York
Bain News Service photo, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ggbain-15754
The first trained deaconesses came from Chicago to Montana in 1898 to staff a small twenty-bed hospital in Great Falls. Chicago-trained Augusta Ariss arrived in 1902 to found the nursing school there. Deaconesses from the Chicago School also arrived to take charge of the Montana Deaconess School in Helena.

The Montana Deaconess Preparatory School, Helena. The building was damaged in the 1935 earthquake and demolished.
Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 953-410
From 1910 to the 1940s, it was the only Protestant-based boarding school west of the Mississippi. (It survives today as Intermountain, a treatment center for emotionally traumatized children.) Until the 1930s, deaconesses staffed the Great Falls hospital, its nursing school, and other deaconess hospitals in Glasgow, Sidney, Bozeman, Billings, Havre, and Butte. The Great Falls Deaconess Hospital evolved into today’s Benefis Healthcare. The old Deaconess Hospital campus today serves a worthy purpose as an assisted living and memory care facility.

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